Review: Ottawa Arts Review Vol 2.2 (2008)

One of the things I’ve always been bad at is reading arts journals – I love them, I adore them, but I can never seem to keep up with actually reading them. Part of my 2019 goal is to read all the ones I’ve accumulated, and my first breach into this experiment has been a pleasant surprise.

Ottawa Arts Review is the literary magazine associated with the University of Ottawa; this particular volume, however, is a back issue I picked up at the Small Press Fair. It’s weird to grasp that a journal from 2008 is ten years old, but I lucked out and got the very last copy available! Which means, unfortunately, unlike most reviews, I can’t coax you into buying it.

The journal is a collection of art and poetry, both of which are phenomenal. While the journal doesn’t seem to be actively themed, nevertheless, it manages to sustain an Alice-in-Wonderland, half-surreal, half-contemporary atmosphere. Probably the best example of that is the short poem ‘Steam’ by Dawn DiBartolo.

i was swallowed
by the black well
several days ago,
surrounded and
drowning slowly
in cement tears.

-no. 28

It’s a poem about depression, concrete and the cityscape – set alongside an art piece titled ‘Hookah-Smoking Caterpillar’ by Kyle Brownrigg. There’s poetry about skinny jeans, about the Rideau Canal, and possibly my favourite of all: Lara Stokes’ prose poem ‘Terrors’.

in the dream the house is empty and just the way we left it and
we’re returning because it’s home, because we liked the big
backyard and I still know my way in the dark but I can’t find my
family and the windows are boarded shut and the doors are all
open but I check behind them anyways and sometimes the doors
fly shut and sometimes they lock and sometimes I am stuck in
there, screaming, and no one can hear me

-no. 57

Of particular note are two sets of poems that are direct mirrors of each other; ‘Skinny Jeans’ by Andrew Faulkner and ‘Skinny Jesus’ by Joe Hickey are opposite of each other as numbers 36 and 37 respectively, and on the next pagespread, ‘All cloudy’ by Faulkner and ‘All too clear’ mirror each other again. The latter two are an ode to the downtown milieu, rubber cement, smoke in the stairwell, fire exits, crumbling concrete.

Overall, reading OAR’s 2008 issue is a fascinating window into the Ottawa poetry and arts scene; even though I live here, looking ten years back puts into perspective how much the snow and concrete are parts of our poetic milieu, along with the situational depression of ‘Generation Screwed’ and the sense that somewhere along the way, we took the wrong turn. It’s a beautiful piece of work, and it is really tragic that no more are being printed.

However, many of the poets inside are still active. Rob McLennan is the mind behind above/ground press and the Ottawa Small Press Fair; Lara Stokes runs the blog Across the Bar, and Catriona Wright has a short story and poetry collection of her own, as well as editing for the Puritan. 


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